Depending on your exercise goal – boosting your energy levels, enhancing your focus or increasing size – here are four pre-exercise supplements you can include into your shake prior to workout.
CAFFEINE IS FOR ENHANCING FOCUS
The main benefit of this stimulant is to increase levels of mood-enhancing endorphins in your brain. Endorphins reduce the perception of pain and fatigue, and help improve focus and alertness. But the effects are also physical: caffeine may increase muscle fibre recruitment, supporting anaerobic performance.
You should take a caffeine supplement 30-60 minutes before and during your exercise if it takes longer than an hour. Between 70 and 210mg (which is like drinking two cups of coffee) is an effective dose — more can blunt its effects over time.
Caffeine is a diuretic, but it doesn’t dehydrate your body as much as once thought. Studies show that is because adrenaline, released during working out, blocks caffeine’s effect on the kidneys.
LEUCINE IS FOR INCREASING SIZE
Pre-exercise powders often contain the branched-chain amino acid leucine. Beside the other BCAAs isoleucine and valine, it’s essential for your diet because your body doesn’t produce these acids on its own. Taking leucine before exercise triggers protein synthesis and reduces protein breakdown during a resistance session for increased strength and size, however you can consume enough for maximum muscle-building effect (2g) from just three eggs.
If your diet contains a lot of eggs, dairy products, poultry, fish and meat, you’re already getting enough leucine to help resist muscle breakdown.
BETA-ALANINE IS FOR HIIT WORKOUTS
This amino acid prevents fatigue. It’s used to make carnosine, which is a compound that neutralizes the burn of lactic acid in your muscles when you’re doing short, high-intensity exercise. The average performance improvement is 2.85% — equivalent to shaving six seconds of your first four minutes of a timed training session or race, however, it’s less effective for longer events.
You need to take it regularly to increase muscle carnosine concentrations, rather than just before the odd session. About 3g a day for 6 weeks followed by a maintenance dose of 1.2g a day has been proven to give the best results.
High doses may cause skin tingles, but only for a couple of minutes — and you can avoid this by sipping the shake over 30 minutes rather than drinking it quickly.
ARGININE IS FOR A SHORT-TERM PUMP
Hammering out 20 push-ups will give you a short-term muscle pump thanks to vasodilation, the process that improves blood flow to muscles. You can get the same effect from taking L-arginine supplements, which promotes nitric oxide (NO) production, helping deliver oxygen and nutrients where they’re needed. Combine the two and your muscles will swell appreciably. No boosters such as beetroot juice are more effective for hitting PBs.
Arginine supplements provide small benefits for beginners, but not for trained athletes.